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Five Ways Obama's TechHire Initiative Will Drive Diversity in the Industry

“It turns out, it doesn’t matter where you learned to code," Obama said, "it just matters how good you are at writing code. If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

The White House

President Obama has been vocal about the role that technology will play in creating greater opportunities for all Americans. Private companies like LaunchCode have already been helping people achieve the American Dream by offering upward mobility through technology. The president’s latest initiative on this front, TechHire, dedicates $100 million to train people without technical skills for in-demand, well-paying technical jobs, and match them with employers that have “urgent” needs in fields like cyber security, software development and coding.

After TechHire’s unveiling, most of the discussion centered around the impact it would have on middle-class individuals, particularly those without four-year degrees. However, barely any discussion has examined the equally dramatic effect that TechHire will have on the tech industry. Perhaps its biggest contribution will come in the form of some much-needed diversity in the industry.

Here are five ways that TechHire will drive greater diversity in tech:

Access to technical education for low-income and underserved Americans

TechHire will provide grants to people who have barriers to training and employment, including individuals with child-care responsibilities, disabilities, limited English proficiency and disconnected youth. In addition, the private sector will provide free training to groups that are underrepresented in tech, such as women, minorities and veterans.

Providing useful, convenient and affordable training to members of these groups is a critical first step in bringing greater diversity to the tech industry, which is overwhelmingly made up of white males. Men outnumber women seven to three in the tech industry, and tech companies employ female engineers at around 12 percent.

Research from USA Today found that just 2 percent of technology workers at leading tech companies are black, and 3 percent are Hispanic. Despite the fact that IT jobs are considered a top career path for veterans and people with disabilities, they can be inaccessible to these groups since they generally require four-year degrees.

A commonly cited reason for tech’s lack of diversity is the “pipeline problem,” whereby the available talent pool primarily consists of white or Asian college-educated males, and that is reflected in the workforce. TechHire strives to overcome this challenge by targeting tech training toward specific, underrepresented groups of people, such as those mentioned above. This will serve to fill the hiring pipeline with skilled workers from a wider range of backgrounds translating into a more diverse workplace.

Connecting traditionally non-technical cities with new opportunities

The Bay Area is home to the world’s most vibrant technology ecosystem, which overflows with job opportunities, ideas, investors, support, training opportunities and more. While there are certainly other hubs around the U.S., such as New York and Austin, many rural areas and smaller cities struggle with a shortage of skilled tech workers and miss out on significant economic opportunities as a result.

In an effort to bridge these geographic gaps, TechHire has partnered with 21 communities around the U.S., including 300 employer partners with over 120,000 open technology jobs. Locales include hubs like San Francisco and New York, as well as Chattanooga, eastern Kentucky, Detroit and Albuquerque. By strengthening the talent pool in these regions, TechHire will bring people from a broader range of geographies, and thus backgrounds, into the tech industry.

Making education accessible to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds

Historically, for vast swaths of the U.S. population, going to college is out of reach, and so are tech jobs. Tuition in the U.S. is already sky-high, and it is expected to double in the next 10 years. Some 62 percent of Americans say they can’t afford public university, much less private colleges. Consequently, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are far less likely to attend a four-year college, and are thus less likely to find a well-paying, satisfying job.

TechHire’s goal is to make technical education available to people who would not otherwise be able to afford it. In addition to offering grants, the initiative also promotes training programs that provide different forms of payment models. For example, some programs take a percentage of a first paycheck so students do not need to pay up front. This approach also means the class does not benefit unless the trainee does.

Providing new nontraditional education paths

TechHire will also fuel diversity in tech through its support of accelerated tech learning programs, such as Codecademy and General Assembly. These programs are not only more affordable than university educations, but also more convenient. The objective is to train people in months, rather than years, so they get employable faster. This is especially necessary for someone supporting a family.

TechHire also takes measures on the employer side to ensure companies are willing to hire people with alternative educational backgrounds, who do not have a top school or years of experience on their resume. To quote the president, “It turns out, it doesn’t matter where you learned to code, it just matters how good you are at writing code. If you can do the job, you should get the job.” To this end, TechHire is establishing alternative education standards and creating a recruiting guide for employers. By promoting acceptance of nontraditional learning programs, TechHire will encourage hiring of people with diverse backgrounds.

Modernize hiring practices for businesses and local governments

TechHire also encourages diversity through its efforts to modernize the way businesses and local governments recruit. One important component is cultivating a willingness to hire from a broader set of places, which was discussed above. Additionally, the program encourages employers to implement a data-driven approach when searching for potential hires and when assessing tech skills. Emphasis on this data-driven and objective approach will make hiring more meritocratic, further removing the traditional biases and opening the doors for more diverse candidates.

Third, TechHire communities are called upon to build strategies and forge partnerships that will better connect people to jobs. For example, local leaders will host tech-community gatherings that bring employers and potential hires together. Industry-trusted organizations will also be called upon to vouch for workers with the right skills, but who lack the “typical profile of degrees and career experience.” Big banks like Capital One and financial institutions like Morgan Stanley have already committed to revamping their hiring practices as part of TechHire.

TechHire takes a multi-pronged, multi-layered approach to making career opportunities in IT more accessible to more Americans. This initiative will not only benefit those individuals who participate, but will have far-reaching benefits for the tech industry and the economy as a whole. TechHire will make it easier for workers of all demographic, geographic, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds to enter the technology ecosystem. A weight of evidence shows the positive impact that diversity has on team performance. By fostering a more diverse workforce, TechHire will lead to a stronger, more innovative tech industry.


Vivek Ravisankar is the co-founder and CEO of HackerRank, a platform used by programmers to hone their skills, and by companies to recruit great tech talent. Reach him @hackerrank.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.